Challenger…Remembering a teacher
Today marks 30 years since The Challenger disaster. As a teacher and a resident of Florida, I remember it well. My fifth graders and I went out of the classroom onto the school yard to witness the launch. They were so excited. This teacher, my colleague…even though I had never met her…was making history. She was taking the ride of her life and had brought her experiments with her to share again with her students and school children of the world. Sadly, she would never have that opportunity. I honor Christa McAuliffe today…her courage, excitement, dedication and bravery, along with her team mates who perished with her.
Sharon Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher to fly in space. Selected from among more than 11,000 applicants from the education profession for entrance into the astronaut ranks.
Oct. 5, 1984 Space Shuttle Challenger Photographed by astronaut Paul J. Weitz, who was piloting the Shuttle training aircraft (STA).
Christa’s companion astronauts were as follows: (Information provided by NASA)
- The spacecraft commander was Francis R. (Dick) Scobee.Scobee was born on May 19, 1939, in Cle Elum, Washington, and graduated from the public high school in Auburn, Washington, in 1957. He then enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, training as a reciprocating engine mechanic but longing to fly. He took night courses and in 1965 completed a B.S. degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Arizona. This made it possible for Scobee to receive an officer’s commission and enter the Air Force pilot training program. He received his pilot’s wings in 1966 and began a series of flying assignments with the Air Force, including a combat tour in Vietnam. Scobee also married June Kent of San Antonio, Texas, and they had two children, Kathie R. and Richard W., in the early 1960s. He attended the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California, in 1972 and thereafter was involved in several test programs. As an Air Force test pilot Scobee flew more than 45 types of aircraft, logging more than 6,500 hours of flight time.In 1978 Scobee entered NASA’s astronaut corps and was the pilot of STS-41-C, the fifth orbital flight of the Challenger spacecraft, launching from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on April 6, 1984. During this seven-day mission the crew successfully retrieved and repaired the ailing Solar Maximum Satellite and returned it to orbit. This was an enormously important mission, because it demonstrated the capability that NASA had long said existed with the Space Shuttle to repair satellites in orbit.
- Michael J. Smith, born on April 30, 1945 in Beaufort, North Carolina. At the time of the Challenger accident a commander in the U.S. Navy, Smith had been educated at the U.S. Naval Academy, class of 1967, and received an M.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1968. From there he underwent aviator training at Kingsville, Texas, and received his wings in May 1969. After a tour as an instructor at the Navy’s Advanced Jet Training Command between 1969 and 1971, Smith flew A- 6 “Intruders” from the USS Kitty Hawk in Southeast Asia.
- Judith Resnik was one of three mission specialists on Challenger. Born on April 5, 1949 at Akron, Ohio, the daughter of Dr. Marvin Resnik, a respected Akron optometrist, and Sarah Resnik. Brought up in the Jewish religion, Resnik was educated in public schools before attending Carnegie-Mellon University, where she received a B.S. in electrical engineering in 1970, and the University of Maryland, where she took at Ph.D. in the same field in 1977. Resnik worked in a variety of professional positions with the RCA corporation in the early 1970s and as a staff fellow with the Laboratory of Neurophysiology at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, between 1974 and 1977.Selected as a NASA astronaut in January 1978, the first cadre containing women, Resnik underwent the training program for Shuttle mission specialists during the next year. Thereafter, she filled a number of positions within NASA at the Johnson Space Center, working on aspects of the Shuttle program. Resnik became the second American woman in orbit during the maiden flight of Discovery, STS-41-D, between August 30 and September 5, 1984. During this mission she helped to deploy three satellites into orbit; she was also involved in biomedical research during the mission. Afterward, she began intensive training for the STS-51- L mission on which she was killed.
- Ronald E. McNair was the second of three mission specialists aboard Challenger. Born on October 21, 1950 in Lake City, South Carolina, McNair was the son of Carl C. McNair, Sr., and Pearl M. McNair. He achieved early success in the segregated public schools he attended as both a student and an athlete. Valedictorian of his high school class, he attended North Carolina A&T State University where in 1971 he received a B.S. degree in physics. He went on to study physics at MIT, where he specialized in quantum electronics and laser technology, completing his Ph.D. in 1977. As a student he performed some of the earliest work on chemical HF/DF and high pressure CO lasers, publishing path breaking scientific papers on the subject.
- Ellison S. Onizuka, was the last of the three mission specialists. He had been born in Kealakekua, Kona, Hawaii, on June 24, 1946, of Japanese-American parents. He attended the University of Colorado, receiving B.S. and M.S. degrees in engineering in June and December 1969, respectively. While at the university he married Lorna Leido Yoshida of Hawaii, and the couple eventually had two children. He also participated in the Air Force R.O.T.C. program, leading to a commission in January 1970. Onizuka served on active duty with the Air Force until January 1978 when he was selected as a NASA astronaut. With the Air Force in the early 1970s he was an aerospace flight test engineer at the Sacramento Air Logistics Center. After July 1975 he was assigned to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, as squadron flight test officer and later as chief of the engineering support section.When Onizuka was selected for the astronaut corps he entered into a one year training program and then became eligible for assignment as a mission specialist on future Space Shuttle flights. He worked on orbiter test and checkout teams and launch support crews at the Kennedy Space Center for the first two Shuttle missions. Since he was an Air Force officer on detached duty with NASA, Onizuka was a logical choice to serve on the first dedicated Department of Defense classified mission. He was a mission specialist on STS-51-C, taking place 24-27 Jan. 1985 on the Discoveryorbiter. The Challenger flight was his second Shuttle mission.
- Gregory B. Jarvis, a payload specialist, worked for the Hughes Aircraft Corp.’s Space and Communications Group in Los Angeles, California, and had been made available for the Challenger flight by his company. Jarvis had been born on August 24, 1944, in Detroit, Michigan. He had been educated at the State University of New York at Buffalo, receiving a B.S. in electrical engineering (1967); at Northeastern University, Boston, where he received an M.S. degree in the same field (1969); and at West Coast University, Los Angeles, where he completed coursework for an M.S. in management science (1973). Jarvis began work at Hughes in 1973 and served in a variety of technical positions until 1984 when he was accepted into the astronaut program under Hughes’ sponsorship after competing against 600 other Hughes employees for the opportunity. Jarvis’ duties on the Challenger flight had revolved around gathering new information on the design of liquid-fueled rockets.
- Sharon Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher to fly in space. Selected from among more than 11,000 applicants from the education profession for entrance into the astronaut ranks, McAuliffe had been born on September 2, 1948, the oldest child of Edward and Grace Corrigan. Her father was at that time completing his sophomore year at Boston College, but not long thereafter he took a job as an assistant comptroller in a Boston department store and the family moved to the Boston suburb of Framingham. As a youth she registered excitement over the Apollo moon landing program, and wrote years later on her astronaut application form that “I watched the Space Age being born and I would like to participate.”McAuliffe attended Framingham State College in her hometown, graduating in 1970. A few weeks later she married her longstanding boyfriend, Steven McAuliffe, and they moved to the Washington, DC, metropolitan area so Steven could attend Georgetown Law School. She took a job teaching in the secondary schools, specializing in American history and social studies. They stayed in the Washington area for the next eight years, she teaching and completing an M.A. from Bowie State University, in Maryland. They moved to Concord, New Hampshire, in 1978 when Steven accepted a job as an assistant to the state attorney general. Christa took a teaching post at Concord High School in 1982, and in 1984 learned about NASA’s efforts to locate an educator to fly on the Shuttle. The intent was to find a gifted teacher who could communicate with students from space.NASA selected McAuliffe for this position in the summer of 1984 and in the fall she took a year-long leave of absence from teaching, during which time NASA would pay her salary, and trained for an early 1986 Shuttle mission. She had an immediate rapport with the media, and the teacher in space program received tremendous popular attention as a result. It is in part because of the excitement over McAuliffe’s presence on the Challenger that the accident had such a significant impact on the nation.